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Sheffield Autism Partnership Network launches

Between 18,000 and 22,000 people in Sheffield are autistic. To make Sheffield an inclusive city, this new network is aiming high.

The Circle off Division Street
Gary Butterfield

Melissa Simmonds is ambitious. As the Adult Autism Coordinator at Voluntary Action Sheffield, she led the launch of the Sheffield Autism Partnership Network (SAPN), whose aim is to “work to ensure that Sheffield is the best possible city it can be” for autistic people. The network brings together a range of community, voluntary and charity sector and statutory groups and organisations, both professionally led and user-led, that work with Sheffield’s autistic population.

As an autistic woman with autistic children, Simmonds is aiming high to improve the situation in Sheffield for every autistic person.

“I want Sheffield to be an inclusive city where autistic people are not isolated from an activity, amenity or provision, whether in the private, public, voluntary, charity or faith sector.”

As she noted at the network launch event, she knows this will take determination and hard work. “I am not naïve - our vision is ambitious”. But it is a worthwhile goal that is essential if the 3-4% of the Sheffield population who are autistic are to benefit.

Sheffield Autism Partnership Network logo
Sheffield Autism Partnership Network

John Macilwraith, Executive Director of People Services with Sheffield City Council, shares Simmonds’ aspiration for Sheffield to be better.

He is particularly keen to allow community support for autistic people to begin earlier, especially as waiting times for diagnoses are long. The length of time to diagnosis is brought up by several participants at the launch event and some of the services represented are already supporting people who believe they have autism but are not yet diagnosed.

Christine Breakey is on the Sheffield Autism Partnership Network Steering Group. Representatives from numerous local organisations such as Sheffield Autistic Society, Spectrum First and Autism Hope make up the group, which is thought to be a temporary measure until the network itself is more self-supporting.

Priorities for the network, which have been informed by autistic people, include a focus on:

  • Health
  • Employment
  • Dealing with “officialdom” (e.g. the council or the DWP)
  • Community issues
  • Social activities and interactions
  • Parenting
  • Relationships

The network highlights the importance of reaching hard-to-reach autistic people, as well as those already recognised and supported within services. It will also provide training for services that are not specialised in working with autistic people, and leaflets and information about autism and what is available in the city.

Macilwraith hopes that Sheffield will not only become a model of an autism-friendly city for the rest of the country, but “an exemplar as a city” to the whole world.

The overall goal is clear: we need to make Sheffield a better place for autistic people to live and work. As the network develops, its hopes are that groups working together with a common goal will help to achieve this.

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